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January 23 - Tarutao, Thailand

Baraka slipped her lines at Rebak and headed north. A nice breeze pushed us across the Thailand border to Tarutao, where we anchored in a large bay on the west side. Tomorrow we rise early for the longer daysail to Ko Muk.

Graph of our cruising budget? Jan's mood swings in the tropics? Or Thai island?

January 26 - Day hops to Phuket

At pretty Ko Muk we anchored with Harmonie in the cleavage between two steep spires of rock. We pumped up the kayak and I tootled around the bay until a pelting rain hit, the kind feels like hail and pounds bubbles on the water's surface with its force. I paddled back to Baraka between gusts. The next morning Dave and I paddled over to the cave entrance. Even with a good divelight, the cave interior sucked all light away. Around a couple bends, it opened into a beautiful sunlit hong, lovely pool with a small sand beach completely enclosed by steep walls, but open to the sky. Gorgeous.

Dave enjoyed the nice daysail to Ko Lanta. Fun to be sailing again after so much motoring for this past season. We dug in the anchor, as strong night winds were forecast again. Dave saw one blast of 40 knots, but in the lee of Ko Lanta we rested easy. Today we are underway under cloudy skies, trying to decide whether to stop at Phi Phi Don or go all the way to Phuket.

Phi Phi Don is famous as a vacation destination for the young and drunken, with beach bars blaring until dawn. We passed between Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Le - spectacular sheer vertical faces, saving the Phi Phis for another day.

Beautiful Ko Muk anchorage.

We kayak through a cave to a sunlit hong.

January 28 - Ao Sone, Phuket

Thai fish boats travel in pairs, dragging a shared net.

We sail past Ko Phi Phi Le.

Great beam reach, all the way into Ao Sone, a large protected bay on the SW tip of Phuket. We flew the spinnaker for awhile, but had to douse it in time for a squall. We anchored off "Jungle Beach". Chris on Conversations came by to welcome us and offer local info, including where to beach the dinghy, and how to get to Ao Chalong. The next morning we picked up Harmonie and dinghied ashore, caught a taxi to Ao Chalong, and cleared into Thailand. Odd to have been here so many nights without clearing in, but it is assumed that we have about a week's grace to clear. We are happy to have parked Baraka at Ao Sone - the bay at Ao Chalong is a froth of wind waves, looks uncomfortable, and the beach landing is through surf at high tide, and surf and mud at low tide.

We wandered a bit at Ao Chalong, finding the ATM, buying me new fins, and enjoying a grocery store well-stocked with western food items rarely found. We caught a Tuk-tuk back to Ao Sone in time for an excellent and cheap lunch on the beach at the dinghy landing. Nice welcome to Thailand.

Nice sailing to Phuket.

This area was hit hard by the Boxing Day Tsunami.

January 31 - Still at Ao Sone

We are enjoying Ao Sone. Ashore are hundreds of colorful umbrellas, shading pink tourists, on a white sand beach. I kayaked all around the bay, skirting beaches and snorkelers.

We enjoyed another tasty meal at the dinghy landing restaurant. Dinners run less than $20 including 4 beers, sweet. One evening we went over to Conversations for a cockpit happy hour, gleaning a lot of helpful local info from a couple who have travelled here before.

With Harmonie we landed at the nudie beach and hiked up a hill to a wonderful lookout over the bay. At the top was an interesting open air Buddhist temple with a many-faced female Buddha, surrounded by several thousand elephant statues in all sizes. Very cool. Wandering through a bonsai garden we came to another great restaurant overlooking the bay. We are liking Thailand!

Above Ao Sone is the elephant shrine...

...where thousands of elephants are neatly arranged.

We enjoy a tasty Thai dinner high above Ao Sone...

...in a garden of carvings and bonsai.

February 11 - Charybdis

Baraka has been sucked into the Phuket vortex. After less than a week here, we have gotten bids from 3 talented woodworkers to repair our teak decks. We accepted a bid from Mr. Phon who will start work on Monday. Our 23-year-old decks are worn down, and the teak plugs have worn away exposing the screws, which open the decks to water intrusion. Time to repair them. Baraka will move to a work dock here at Royal Phuket Marina. We would have preferred Boat Lagoon next door, but it is full. Meanwhile, we got our teeth cleaned and are doing other small personal and boat cosmetic projects. Life is easy here, services excellent and affordable - we can see why people stay.

February 19 - Piracy

The buzz here is about an American yacht seized by pirates yesterday off the coast of Oman. This is the season boats working their way from SE Asia to the Med must cross the Indian Ocean and go up the Red Sea, and piracy is a constant topic. Both the British and French governments have urged their citizens to not attempt this passage, in the face of increasing activity. Most attacks have been against more lucrative tankers and freighters, but small yachts are not immune. The crew and contents are held hostage for ransom. The pirates are getting wealthy, able to afford better weapons, stationing mother ships well offshore. The area of risk is emormous.

It seems astonishing in the modern world to witness pirates flourishing. Governments seems to have their hands tied. There are patrolled corridors. Commercial ships are hiring mercenaries and building safe rooms for crews, but activity is increasing, and ransoms are being paid.

As an alternative, some crews are considering freighting their yachts to the Med. Last week 10 yachts in India arranged for a transport ship to divert to the Maldives and pick them up. This is expensive - 30-40K per yacht, and also has risk. A few weeks ago a yacht transport ship was seized.

Some yachts we know have turned back to SE Asia, others are continuing on. We wish them safe passage.

March 1 - Days Drift By

We read this morning of another yacht transiting the Indian Ocean, Danish with children aboard, captured by pirates. And the 4 crew of the yacht Quest have been shot and killed. There are still many boats out there - this is very bad news. Traditionally yachts were left alone, too small to be worth taking, but with many more pirates searching, any target is worthwhile.

For us, safe at Phuket, the boat work grinds on. A crew today is removing plugs and screws from our teak decks, drilling them deeper, and replacing them, a tedious and noisy job. Mr. Phon arranged for a rotted deck box to be rebuilt at a very reasonable price. The teak exterior was good and reusable, but the interior plywood box had rotted to mush. Another job, a splurge for us, is building a set of drawers for the cavity left by our deceased ice maker. I am thrilled about this - new storage in a handy place by the nav station. We have set up sawhorses (actually our stainless mast pulpits) on the dock, under a rigged awning, and I am happily varnishing the deckboxes, cockpit table, and other loose items. Dave is polishing all the stainless bits removed for the deck work.

About once a week we take a day off from projects and head into town. This week I went to Phuket International Hospital for diagnosis of a side pain I thought might be gallstones. No worries, just a strained ligament on my ribcage. The exam, including $6 registration fee, came to $16, less than my co-pay at home. Dave and I celebrated the good news with lunch at the China Inn in Phuket Town, famous locally for their mango smoothies. We also took a hair-raising 3-wheeled motorcycle tuktuk to SuperCheap, an amazing sprawl of a warehouse where you can buy anything from a goldfish aquarium to a giant plastic Buddha. Not many farangs - this is where the locals shop to find bargains.

We bike daily to nearby Boat Lagoon Marina where several friends are having boat work done. The many chandleries there are well-stocked, though expensive (import duty is 30%). Lunch at the local eatery came to $3 yesterday for the 2 of us, a tasty meal of chicken massaman curry with rice.

Rolly Tasker has a gigantic sailloft near Ao Chalong.

A hundred workers make and repair sails.

We explore the magnificent temple of wat Chalong.

Mei and Kevin of Whisper HR are our guides.

Around the temple are stalls with tasty foods...

...some are mouth-blistering spicy hot.

On the highest hill is a gigantic 45-meter-high "Big Buddha".

Where we can ring a giant bell...

...and a giant gong.

Pretty Phuket Town has old Chinese homes.

On a back street is a pretty temple...

...with fantastic roof dragons.

This dragon is eating the moon.

March 9 - Boat work continues, and some rambling

Dave and I swelter below in the 95 F heat, no A/C during the day, so our workers can come and go. The new drawers are beautiful - it will be difficult to tell them apart from the original boat cabinetry. Mr. Phon is an artist, taking the time and care to perfect his work, and is willing to rework anything not to his or our satisfaction. We are impressed at the level of quality Thai woodworkers achieve with fairly basic tools.

This Saturday we will leave Baraka at Phuket and fly to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. Dave and I discussed the differences between vacationers, ex-pats, tourists and travelers. Vacationers flock to Phuket to enjoy the beaches and bars, cheap massages and risqué shows. The ex-pats have come for a high standard of living at a bargain price. Tourists are interested in visiting highlight sites and capturing them in photos, a checklist approach to travel. For travelers, the journey is the destination, so we never arrive. Most of the time aboard Baraka, we are travelers. When we leave to fly to Chiang Mai, we will be tourists.

More friends have decided to ship their boats to the Med. The range of pirate activity continues to expand, even impinging on the S. Africa route. Few yachts ever budgeted for expensive transshipment, but the alternative cost is potentially too high.

Some cruisers lament about perceived government inactivity, suggesting that Somalia be blockaded or invaded, or that yachties deserve military escort at public expense. We don’t think there is a simple solution so long as insurance companies continue to pay ransoms for cargo ships. Dave asked me whether we’d chip in to ransom friends if they are caught. Tough one. Any ransom paid encourages piracy. What one says and what one does may be different when it becomes personal.

March 14 - Chiang Mai and National Elephant Day

Dave and I flew north to Chiang Mai - "new (700 years new) city”. We taxied to comfy Pat’s Klangviang guesthouse inside the moated old town. Yesterday morning our airport cabbie picked us up for a planned day of exploring outside Chiang Mai. Our first stop was an elephant show at Maesa Camp. Pretty cool show - each elephant belongs to a mahout (or vice versa). A young man responsible for riding and training it. The elephants threw darts at targets and painted pictures, recognizable landscapes and flora, stacked logs and played basketball. Sounds hokey, but it was pretty cool. We noticed that much of the audience were costumed hill tribe people, rather than tourists. About then we learned that March 13 was National Elephant Day. The camp became a festival ground, with food booths and hill tribe craft demos, dancing and speeches. Highlight was the elephant feast. A huge buffet had been set up, frond-covered platforms laden with bananas, melons, and sugar cane. The 59 Maesa elephants, ridden by their mahouts, wound down a steep switchback hill into the buffet, then chowed down with obvious delight. One of the weirdest and most wonderful things we’ve seen.

We finally pried ourselves away in time to visit the long-neck village, where women and girls extend their necks with brass rings. This is done for protection - to prevent ghosts from sucking their blood. Men are apparently not tasty, only women wear the rings. There are many hill tribes in northern Thailand. Some are refugees from Burma, others from Tibet or China. Borders are meaningless to these nomadic peoples. They are incredibly poor, and live primitively in the hills. Some make a living selling colorful weaving and needlework, while a few other tribes deal opium.

We arrived back in town in time for the night market. Long streets are blocked off, and lined with food and clothing and crafts stalls. We walked all evening covering most of the market, stopping only long enough for a welcome foot massage, given on the street for 60 baht - about $2.

Today Pat took us to a celadon pottery shop where I spent a happy hour. Then Dave and I walked around the old town, exploring the many wats (Buddhist temples), and indulging in spicy Thai dishes. We booked a bus trip to Chiang Rai for later this week. Late afternoon I booked a massage. Thai massage is somewhat brutal, but you are happy when the pain stops! And the price is right - $6 for an hour.

This elephant can paint a picture.

Granddaddy elephant with magnificent tusks.

Each elephant has a dedicated mahout.

An elephant swipes Dave's hat.

59 elephants parade down a switchback...

...to a buffet of fruits and sugarcane.

March 19 - Bangkok and Joel!

We are in Bangkok tonight with our son Joel. Joel flew here to meet us (by way of Narita, Japan, which worried me). He arrived safely, no issues, within minutes of our arrival from Chiang Mai. We are so excited to have him here with us. We have a couple days in Bangkok, then fly to Hanoi to explore northern Vietnam.

Dave’s and my last days in Chiang Mai were a lot of fun. We took a Thai cooking class. Great to learn how to prepare some basic dishes of this yummy cuisine. We caught a bus to Chiang Rai where we discovered we didn’t have any warm clothes. It poured chilly rain and we shivered our way to the hill tribe museum, the white temple (stunning!), the black house, Chiang Saen for the Opium Museum and the Golden Triangle, conjunction of Myramar (Burma), Laos and Thailand.

We are learning a lot about the impacts of tourism. Those long-necked hill-tribe women are from Burma, brought to Thailand in artificial villages for tourists to photograph, sort of a freak show. They are paid 1500 baht a month, about $50, while each tourist pays 500 baht to visit the village. That money goes into the pocket of the person exploiting the hill-tribe women. Another impact of tourism is the loss of cultural identity when tourists buy the beautiful textile hill-tribe costumes. It may take several years to make a costume, and when the hill-tribe woman sells hers, it may be the last one she will ever own.

In contrast, tourism has a positive effect of elephants and their mahouts. Logging is now illegal in Thailand, resulting in unemployment for elephants. Mahouts cannot afford the huge amount of food needed to keep an elephant alive, so many are abandoned. The elephant camps, where tourists can ride and interact with elephants, provide the needed funding.

Traditional "long neck" women are exploited to entertain tourists.

Fried bugs are Thai snacks.

Dave is game to try a cricket.

We learn to prepare a few Thai meals.

Chiang Mai is dotted with beautiful wats.

Near Chiang Rai we visit the amazing "White Temple".

The creepy moat could have been designed by Hiermonyous Bosch.

The temple looks frosted, the effect of mirrors and white paint.

At Pat's Klangviang, a house shrine honoring ancestors is consecrated.

March 21 - Bangkok

Fun days with Joel! We stayed at the comfy Bangkok Loft Inn, and rode the MTS to the river for a ferry ride to the Grand Palace. Our guidebooks had warned us that scam artists would lie that the palace was closed. Sure enough, a fairly convincing man told us to return the next day, more approprately dressed (socks). We walked on to the correct entrance and milled inside with hundreds of other tourists. Best part of the day was a ride across the river to an ancient Wat Arun where we could climb dicey-steep steps for fantastic views at sunset.

We also visited the huge sprawling Chatuchak market where Joel tried a spicy green papaya salad, complete with mashed crab.

From Bangkok we flew to Hanoi for our Vietnam adventure.

Scam artists insist the Palace is closed.

Beautiful murals tell stories.

Gigantic statures ward away evil spirits.

Dave and Joel assist.

Buddhist monks attend the evening chant.

Beautiful Wat Arun.

Joel climbs the steep stairs.

Sunset at Wat Arun.

Snakewine includes a real cobra in the bottle.

April 9, Maya Bay, Koh Phi Phi Le

Back home aboard Baraka we had a busy 2 days reinstalling the mainsheet traveler, mast pulpits, and deck fittings that had been removed for the teak deck work. Mr. Phon and family finished our table and drawers. Joel visited Patong overnight while we completed a few more boat tasks and reprovisioned. Then we used the marina pilot to snake out through mangroves and shoals to open water. Free at last!

We motored in calm to Ko Phi Phi Le, spectacular Maya Bay. The bay is wildly popular, and tourist boats come and go. We snorkeled off the boat and kayaked the bay until 4pm, when the tourist boats left and we had the bay to ourselves for a quiet night.

Joel quickly acclimatizes to the stress of boatlife.

Maya Bay, Phi Phi Le anchorage.

April 10, Krabi

An easy daysail brought us to Krabi, across Phang Nga bay on the mainland side. At Ao Phra Nang we anchored, then kayaked the gorgeous bay. Krabi bays are ringed with steep rock walls, world famous with rock climbers. We went ashore to a good Thai dinner to watch incredibly fit climbers do spiderman routines up the sheer walls. One especially cool thing about these bays is there are no roads to them - the cliffs are too steep, so access is solely by longtail (or private) boat.

We sail across Phang Nga bay to Krabbi...

...with its steep karsks...

...the bay can only be reached...

...by longboats and yachts.

Krabbi's cliffs offer world-class climbing...

...for world-class climbers.

April 11 - James Bond Island

Fun day. We motored through the steep karsts of Phang Nga Bay. These are the vertical islands in the travel brochures. We anchored near one, then took the dinghy around the corner to Khao Ping Gan (aka James Bond Island) where Man with the Golden Gun was filmed. The island's tiny beach is packed with tourist boats. We pulled our dinghy up between several longtails, and paid our admission fee, to join the throngs climbing up over a little bluff to the main beach, which was covered with tourist stalls selling trinkets. The setting is spectacular, but no more so than many other islets in this area. We putted on to Ko Panyi, and interesting Muslim fishing village set on stilts against a karst partway up a river. The village was full of cats enjoying the catch. A tsunami warning sign looked useless - no where to go. Wandering home, we motored through mangrove streams and found hundreds of couples in kayaks, each with a guide/paddler. We followed them through some cool caves.

Phang Nga is dotted with the amazing islands, and many have caves leading to interior "hongs" or rooms. We will have to return to explore some more.

Phang Nga bay offers lovely anchorages.

We travel through sunken mountains...

To James Bond Island...

...where we pay admission to join the throngs...

...and take the photos.

Stalagtites hang downward...

We visit a Muslim fishing village...

...built on pilings.

We join tourists paddling through caves.

April 13 - Yacht Haven

Sad day for Baraka - Joel is flying home. It's been a fast month. We did a lot, and had a wonderful visit. But is ending too soon. At the airport we had a teary goodbye, though we will be together again in only a few months. It's hard to express just how much we enjoy being with Joel, and how proud we are of him.

Time once again for Baraka to move along. We braved the craziness of Songkran to visit the official offices at Ao Chalong - customs, immigration, port captain - and have formally cleared out of Thailand. Driving the length of Phuket, we saw thousands of people in the back of roving pickup trucks or alongside the road dousing each other with buckets and hoses of water. Moto drivers were especially soaked, as were songthaw (open bus) passengers. Local hospitals held blood drives this week. Now we understand why - there must be countless injuries. Joel reports from Bangkok that he was soaked going to the ATM from his hotel, and 40 people rubbed mud into his beard! Songkran is the Thai new year, and the water is apparently lucky, symbolizing the beginning of the wet SW monsoon season.

Click here for our 2010 Malaysia journal.

Click here for our 2011 Vietnam journal.

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